The evangelist John tells us, that when Christ was upon earth, he and others "saw his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) He cannot be understood to speak here of the glory of his outward condition; for Christ made himself, in this respect, of no reputation, taking on him the form of a servant. Nor is this to be interpreted directly and absolutely of the eternal, essential glory of his divine nature; for this cannot be seen in the present state. But the evangelist rather speaks of his glory as Mediator; for it is in the administration of that office that he is "full of grace and truth." This indeed implies his divine nature, as "the only-begotten of the Father." This glory of the Redeemer was seen, not with bodily eyes, but by faith; for John immediately afterwards tells us, that what he speaks of was the privilege only of those that received him, and believed on his name.
God gave to his church, under the Old Testament, kings, priests, and prophets. He anointed them to their several offices, gave them directions as to the discharge of those offices, was present with them in their work, and accepted their services. These offices are all united in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. He is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:6) His priesthood was foretold in the writings of the prophets, and it is particularly insisted on by the apostles. The priestly office consists of two branches, the offering of sacrifice, and making intercession. The sacrifice which Jesus had to offer was his life, which he gave as a ransom for many. He offered himself without spot to God; and on this account, he is called the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) For the same reason he is said to be set forth as a propitiation. Both the parts of his sacerdotal office are mentioned by the apostle John, and their mutual relation to each other is hinted at, in the following words, "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:1,2) His intercession with the Father, as our Advocate, is grounded on his being a propitiation for our sins. But we are indebted to the apostle to the Hebrews, for the largest and clearest account of Christ's priesthood. Jesus may well be precious in this capacity to those that believe, for his priesthood is the principal foundation of the faith and comfort of the church. The subject is interesting and important in the highest degree; but instead of a further discussion of it in this place; I shall only add the following aspiration:--
'O thou great and glorious High Priest, who art higher than the heavens; thou didst condescend to dwell with men upon earth, and didst offer up thyself an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor. By that one offering thou hast perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb. 10:14) Our sins stood between God and us, like a dreadful wall of separation, but by thy glorious and all-sufficient atonement thou hast effectually removed the obstruction, and made the way of access to God and happiness free and open, that the offended Majesty of heaven, and offending mortals when brought to repentance, might be united in the bond of perpetual love. When sojourning here upon earth, thou didst call sinners, by thy own voice, to partake of this privilege: and thou callest them still by the ministers of reconciliation, and by thy blessed word and gospel. Thou didst say to the trembling sinner, "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee." (Matt. 9:2) Let me also hear thy pardoning voice; let me know, by happy experience, that I have redemption through thy blood, the forgiveness of my sins, according to the riches of thy grace. Let my conscience be purged from dead works, that I may serve the living God. (Heb. 9:14) So shall I rejoice with the felicity of thy chosen, and the gladness of thy heritage.
'Thou who didst bleed and die for sinners upon earth, ever livest to make intercession for them in heaven. (Heb. 7:25) Thou art therefore able to save to the uttermost. O let me experience the benefit of thy intercession. Surely thou art precious to my soul in thy priestly attire. No hope, no peace, no joy springs up in my bosom, but what is connected with thy atoning sacrifice, and powerful intercession. Send down thy blessed Spirit into my heart, to seal me for thine own: say to my soul, "I am thy salvation;" then shall I joy in God through Jesus Christ the Lord, the unchangeable and everlasting High Priest of the church, by whom I now receive the atonement.
2. As King in Zion, all power is given to Jesus in heaven and earth. He has all the dignity, and all the authority of a king. He is the Lawgiver of the church, who is able to save, and to destroy. All acts of worship are to be performed in his name. Ministers preach in his name. Christians pray in his name. Believers are baptized in his name. Christians societies partake of the holy supper in remembrance of him. Censures on disorderly persons are given to his name. All the officers in his church militant have their commission from him. And the judgment of the world, at the great day, will be administered by him, when "he shall sit upon the throne of his glory."
But the Redeemer could not be precious to us in his kingly office, if he were not really and properly God, equal and one with the Father. For, as a learned Divine justly observes, since whatever the Father does in respect to the church is done in and by his Son, if the Son be not possessed of the same properties and perfections with the Father, the foundation of our faith is cast down, and the spring of our consolation utterly stopped. If Christ be no more than man, or a created being, however dignified or exalted, the committing of all rule, authority, and judgment to him, is so far from being a source of encouragement and comfort, that it may justly be considered as the greatest disadvantage to the church that can be imagined. He who is King in Zion, should be always present with every member of his church; he should know all their hearts, and all their wants; and he should be able to give them immediate relief and protection in every time of danger. This is only possible to him who is possessed of infinite wisdom, of almighty power, and who is omnipresent, or present in all places at one and the same moment. If Christ be able, at all times, to relieve us, to succor us, to deliver us, and to save us from the power of our spiritual enemies, he is precious to us, while we behold the scepter of government in his hands. We may then say, "The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of the isles be glad thereof." (Ps. 97:1) But if we once suppose that he, of whom it is said, "The government shall be upon his shoulders," (Isa. 9:6) is not the Mighty God, or the Lord Jehovah, our faith, our hope, and our joy in him will be effectually overthrown. We must then hang our harps upon the willows, and give way to all the horrors of despondency and despair.
The rule of him who is King in Zion, is internal and spiritual. It relates to the minds, the souls, and the consciences of all his subjects. Whatever they do, in a gracious way, either in opposition to sin, or in the discharge of duty, is done under the influence, the guidance, and the support which they receive from him, in the exercise of his kingly power. His own words corresponding with the constant experience of his people, are a full confirmation of this truth; "Without me ye can do nothing; that is, nothing successfully, in the Christian warfare. In all the internal actings of their minds, they look unto Jesus, as to one who is more present with their souls, than they are with themselves. And under this consideration he is ever precious to them. But no man can depend on Christ's sovereign power, who is not persuaded, that all his secret groans and sighs, all the inward laborings of his soul against sin, and after a conformity to his image, are immediately and continually under the Redeemer's eye and notice. Whoever dare to deny this great truth, Jesus Christ hath declared that all his churches shall be convinced of it. "For I will make all the churches know, that I search the heart, and try the reins of men." (Rev. 2:23) And the apostle has assured us, that "all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do." (Heb. 4:13) Without a full persuasion of this, there can be neither faith in his name, love to his person, dependence on his power, nor obedience to his authority. But to you that believe the truth concerning him, he is precious.
The day is approaching, when the Lord Jesus Christ will openly, in the face of the whole assembled world, vindicate the honor of his kingly government. God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained. (Acts 17:31) For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. (John 5:22,23) And it is highly proper, as Dr. Smith observes, that this holy and Divine Person, who was buffeted and affronted, condemned and crucified, by an ungrateful and injurious world, should then judge his judges, and be as far advanced above the highest pinnacle of human greatness, as he was once below it. It is fit that Herod may see that he persecuted, not the infant king of a petty province, but the Sovereign of angels and men; and that Pilate and the Jews may be convinced, that he whom they called a king in scorn, is really an Emperor, infinitely greater than Caesar; the King of kings, and the Lord of lords for ever and ever.
3. He is precious as the great Prophet of his church. In consequence of man's apostasy from his Maker, the world is involved in darkness. Till we are enlightened by the wisdom which cometh from above, we sit in the region and shadow of death. We are alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance which is in us, and because of the blindness of our hearts. (Eph. 4:18) That men are insensible of their native blindness, is but a farther proof of the reality of it. For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14) All who are taught of God, learn to know their own ignorance, and consequently they are led to put a just value on the teachings and guidance of Jesus Christ, in his prophetic office.
The glad tidings of pardon, of peace, and reconciliation with God, come by him. The gospel of salvation is the gospel of Christ. He preached this gospel himself when on earth. "He hath anointed me," said Jesus, "to preach good tidings to the meek." (Isa. 61:1) The ministrations of his servants in every age, whereby they instrumentally turn men from darkness to light, are all by the appointment of Christ, in the fulfillment of his prophetic office.
Nay, the same may be said of all the precious instructions contained in the Scriptures of truth; and therefore the sacred writings are emphatically called "The word of Christ," which should dwell richly in us. Whatever has been revealed unto men, of the mind and will of God, from the beginning of time, has been revealed by him in the execution of that office, concerning which we now speak. Hence he himself hath said, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him." (Luke 10:22) He is the light of the world, the glorious Sun, in whom all the rays of divine and intellectual light are concentrated. "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in him." (Col. 2:3) How precious then must he be in his prophetic office! It is on this account, I presume, among others, that he is so often called by that name, which no one but himself can bear, THE WORD OF GOD.
The Father solemnly pointed him out to men, as their prophet, when he sojourned upon earth, by an audible voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him." With convincing evidence and authority he has revealed to the world the secrets which lay hid in the Divine mind. He brought his doctrine from the bosom of the Father, according to the declaration of the evangelist John, "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (John 1:18) Jesus tells us, that the words which the Father gave him, he gave unto us, and that he spake to us that which he had seen with the Father. No wonder therefore is it, that the following awful declaration is made concerning him, "It shall come to pass, that every soul which will not hear this prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:23)
That spiritual illumination, by which sinners are brought to the saving knowledge of God, and of the way of peace, is granted unto them by Jesus Christ as the prophet of his church. He gives unto them the Spirit of truth, to convince them of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and to guide them into all truth. (John 16:8,13) As many as are led by the Spirit of God, are the Sons of God; (Rom. 8:14) but if any man, in this sense, have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Rom. 8:9) How necessary, how important, and consequently, how precious are his divine illuminations! By them we are favored with that knowledge of God, and of the Mediator, which is life eternal.
How greatly endeared then should Jesus Christ be unto us, as our prophet! He who lay in the bosom of the Father has made a fuller and brighter discovery to us what he is, in his admirable and glorious perfections, than we can learn from any other. The light of nature dictates many things to us concerning him, and the ancient prophets have given us farther information. But none knows the Father so as the Son does, and those to whom the Son will reveal him. The knowledge he has of the Father, far transcends the ideas and conceptions of the wisest man that ever existed in the world. He was sent down from heaven to bring life and immortality to light, to reveal the will and the glories of the Father, to make him appear infinitely lovely and desirable in the eyes of sinners, by representing him in all the wonders of his compassion, and forgiving mercy. That great, that just, and holy Being is lovely and amiable in the sight of guilty creatures, when he appears as reconciling the world unto himself, by his Son Jesus Christ, not imputing their trespasses unto them. (2 Cor. 5:19) The great Prophet has informed us, what were the eternal counsels of his Father's love, and what kind designs he formed for our recovery from sin and ruin, when, in his own foreknowledge, he beheld us fallen and miserable. He has told us, what provision the Father made for us, by committing us to the hands of his Son, to be redeemed and saved by him. It is he who has informed us, that "God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Whatever was spoken to men in former ages, by angels and by prophets, concerning the great salvation, Jesus has confirmed; and he has added many rich and precious promises of a glorious resurrection, and a future state, and set them before us in a divine light, beyond what either prophets or angels ever revealed.
How happy are they whom he calls out of darkness into his marvelous light; He adopts them into his family, and conforms them to his blessed image.
He continues to supply them with light and life; he guides them with his counsel, and afterwards receives them to glory.
4. He is the Shepherd of his flock, to conduct, guard and defend them, to feed them in the green pastures of his grace, to cure and heal their diseases, to restore them when they wander, to gather the lambs with his arm, to carry them in his bosom, and gently to lead those that are with young. His power, his care and compassion are infinite. His followers are as sheep in the midst of wolves. We hear one of them saying, "My soul is among lions." These lions may gape and roar, they may seek to devour, but the sheep are safe in the Almighty Shepherd's hands; for he hath said, "I know my sheep, they follow me, and I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:27,28) Such a Shepherd must be precious.
5. He is the Redeemer of their souls, and under that consideration unspeakably precious. The price which he paid for their ransom was not corruptible things, as silver and gold, but his own precious blood: (1 Pet. 1:18,19) a price of infinite value. The redemption which he hath wrought out is the fruit of his amazing love; it is free, it is every way complete, and it is everlasting; for he hath obtained eternal redemption for us. (Heb. 9:12)
When Titus, the Roman emperor, delivered the enslaved Greeks from their bondage, he was endeared to them in such a manner, that all the night long they celebrated the honor of their deliverer with music and dancing, crying out in raptures of delight, as they surrounded his tent, 'A saviour! a saviour!' But as the redemption obtained by Christ is infinitely more important than the deliverance granted by that noble and victorious prince, it demands still more elevated returns of gratitude, love and praise.
"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law." (Gal. 3:13) This could be done no other way, but by his standing in our place, and enduring what we deserved; or, as it is more emphatically expressed by the apostle, by being made a curse for us." He suffered, who was innocent, that we, who are guilty, might escape. He subjected himself to that very sentence which the law denounced upon us. For it is written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things." (Gal. 3:10) Now if Christ endured that very curse which we deserved, that by this means he might deliver us from condemnation, it is evident that he suffered in our stead.
This was absolutely necessary, according to the tenor of the first covenant. For, as God had absolutely declared, "In the day that thou eatest (of the forbidden fruit) thou shalt sure die," (Gen. 2:17) no second Adam could restore the ruins of the first, but by taking this curse upon himself. The truth and justice of the Most High stood absolutely engaged to execute the threatening.
"Die man, or justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death."
6. He is, The Everlasting Father.
How venerable and amiable, how awful, and yet how endearing is the character of a Father! It commands reverence, and softens that reverence into endearment. It awes, and yet it cheers the mind. It inspires the heart with holy boldness, and fills it with delight and joy. Among men, a wise, a prudent, a tender, and an affectionate father is truly an exalted character. What will not such a father do for the children of his bosom, who look up to him for support, for protection, for instruction and for comfort?
With what pleasing sensations may we contemplate our Lord Jesus Christ, as a Father! He often when among his disciples on earth, addressed them not only as children, but endearingly called them little children. As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him; for he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust. (Ps. 103:13,14) We see all, and more than all the tenderness of a Father in the following words, "Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; wherefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy on him saith the Lord." (Jer. 31:20)
7. He is the Bridegroom of his church, and so unspeakably excellent in that view, that neither heaven nor earth can show such another. We were deformed, polluted, and, in every respect, unworthy of standing in so near and intimate a relation to him. There was no excellency in us, to render us desirable in his eyes, but everything to provoke his resentment. And yet he was resolved to betroth us to himself for ever, in lovingkindness, in faithfulness, and in mercy.
Sin had reduced us to a state of absolute beggary, want, and wretchedness; yet it was his good pleasure to take us into union with himself, that we might be interested in his unsearchable riches. Nay, though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty, might be made rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)
Do we speak of the Bridegroom's love? It is absolutely without parallel. There is nothing of the kind among men which will bear any comparison with it. Though it is immutable in itself, yet in the progressive discoveries of it, it is like the waters in Ezekiel's vision, increasing and rising from the ankles to the knees, from the knees to the loins, till at length it becomes as waters to swim in; a river, a boundless ocean of love. Its height and depth, its length and breadth are immeasurable; it passeth the knowledge of men or angels. It is stronger than death; for Christ loveth his church, and gave himself for it. In its commencement, it is from everlasting: in its continuance, it endureth for ever. The pattern of it, is the Father's love to his dear Son: Jesus himself says to those who, according to the language of inspiration, are married unto him, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." (John 15:9) The love of the nearest relations among men falls inconceivably short of setting forth the nature, or the ardency of this love. No husband loves the wife of his bosom as Christ loveth his church.
Believers, by their union with him, are advanced to great riches and honors. God is their Father. They are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. (Rom. 8:17) The riches of eternity are their own. They are taken from the dust and the dunghill, and set among princes, even the princes of his people. The angels in heaven think it no dishonor to be their servants; for they are all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. (Heb. 1:14)
"Thy Maker is thy Husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name." (Isa. 54:5) The contract is made, and it will be consummated at the great day, when the marriage-supper will be celebrated with solemnity, triumph, and glory suited to the dignity of the Bridegroom. "Blessed are they who are called to the marriage-supper of the lamb." (Rev. 19:9)
Without enlarging on other particulars, I may observe in general, that to those who believe in him to the saving of the soul, he is precious under every consideration. He is the bread of God coming down from heaven, and giving everlasting life to their souls. By him they are really, constantly, daily supported, fed and sustained; and as bread is sweet and precious to a hungry man, so is Christ to those who live by him. The entertainment he gives to them is a divine, a spiritual feast. "Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast." (1 Cor. 5:7,8)
He is to them the Sun of Righteousness; the beams of his grace are healing, enlightening, cheering, and full of consolation. If natural light be sweet, if it be a pleasant thing to behold the sun, how much more pleasant to experience the irradiating influences of the Light of life! "On you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise, with healing in his wings." (Mal. 4:2)
Here is the fountain where they bathe their weary souls, and in which they hope for cleansing from all sin and uncleanness. He is the tree of life, under the shadow of which they sit with great delight, and his fruit is sweet to their taste. He is a rock, a strong tower, a hiding-place, where they find protection from every storm and security from every foe. He was precious to the Psalmist under all these views. "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength in whom I trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower." (Ps. 18:1,2)
All the strength of believers, all the light, their life, their consolation, and their joy are in Him, from him, and by him. Through him they are brought into the nearest alliance and friendship with God, the firmest union, and the sweetest communion with him that they are capable of enjoying in the present state, and they shall be introduced into the presence of his glory in the world to come.
It is therefore the business of their lives to know him, to love and honor him with their whole hearts, and to aspire after conformity to his blessed image, and his holy will. They are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:3)
'O blessed Redeemer, I find in thee all that of which my poor helpless soul stands in need. Though I have the greatest reason for shame and humiliation, on account of what I am in myself, yet in thee I behold everything to elevate my hopes, and to afford me relief and encouragement. May my soul magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoice in God my Saviour! The characters and relations in which thou hast revealed thyself to me in thy word, exhibit a balm for every wound, a cordial for ever fear. If I am naked, thou art the Lord my righteousness; if I am sick, thou art my physician; if I am neglected and despised, thou art my compassionate and faithful friend; if I am ignorant, thou art made unto me wisdom; if I am polluted and enslaved, thou art made unto me sanctification and redemption; if I am nothing but emptiness and vanity, thou art full of grace and truth.'